I’m scribbling this fan letter sitting in the Marquis Theatre on Broadway, New York City! Not only is this my first ever Broadway experience but very poetically, it is a show that is hugely significant to me personally. Tonight I’m seeing On Your Feet! The story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan. It seems my 2016 travel itinerary has become an unplanned pilgrimage of sorts, a journey to honour one of my heroes. So it has finally come time to write this long overdue thank you note.
Rewind to Christmas 1993, and apparently I had been singing along to Miami Sound Machine songs on the radio, so for Christmas my mum bought me “Let It Loose” on cassette. Though my musical tastes have evolved many times since age 10, I still name this album as one of my favourites of all time. I’m sure if one was to snoop around my “Most Played” list on iTunes, Betcha Say That, Surrender, Rhythm is Gonna Get You and Love Toy would all be in the mix.
From the Christmas of ’93 onward I became a raving fan and my only birthday and Christmas gift requests were “another Gloria album please.” Every AU$30 I could save went to the purchase of another album in your discography, and yes my fan-ship was so well known, I only needed to refer to you by first name, as if talking about my best friend. On reflection, I wonder how an Aussie tween knowing not a word of Spanish, became so enamoured by a Cuban-American songstress and her music? Why, at such a young age, I gravitated to a music and culture so different from my own I cannot explain, I just know I “love to hear percussion”– latin percussion and a brass section doesn’t hurt either. It is obvious that this attraction was innate, my grandmother nicknamed me the “calypso singer” as a toddler.
At age eleven I joined the International Fan Club, which pre-internet required my mum going off to the bank and getting an international money order, then snail mailing it to the U.S. from Australia. It felt like such a long time between quarterly newsletters, and I was very dedicated in checking our mailbox whenever I knew one was due.
During high school I spent a lot of time in libraries. I would be dropped at school a good hour before the first bell, and well in advance of most of my friends arriving. So I would languish in books, where I had always found my respite, second to music. Once I read every Nancy Drew novel in sight, I would start typing interests into library catalogues, usually disappointed that they didn’t return results on the search terms “Fred Astaire” or “Gloria Estefan.” Then came the day I entered your name into my high school library catalogue the first time and bingo! There it was, a Gloria Estefan biography. Needless to say I read it cover to cover within about 24hrs, and we became fast friends, me and that biography. I knew exactly which aisle and shelf to find it in the library. I read it regularly over the following years, flipping through the pictures and re-reading your life in random snippets as they interested me or I needed them – like if I was coping flack for studying too hard, I would read how you were an A student and it would strengthen my resolve that I was on the right path. Amazingly, I have found a couple of scruffy copies of Gloria Estefan (Hispanics of Achievement) still floating around online thrift stores.
In April 1997, you toured Australia for the first time in 10 years. To say I was excited is an understatement. Somewhere in storage back home there is a photo of me standing in my parent’s driveway waiting to go to the Brisbane concert, wearing a new outfit sewn by my mum and my gold star, International Fan Club member brooch pinned proudly to my chest.
Come sometime in year 12, my geography teacher announced that our next assignment was our choice of an environmental disaster. Ms. Bookallil rattled off a few sample topics we might have considered, and one in particular caught my attention – Agent Orange. I knew your father had developed multiple sclerosis as a result of exposure to the herbicide while serving with the U.S. military in the Vietnam War. I knew that you had spent much of your teen years nursing your father during his illness. I seized the opportunity to learn more about Agent Orange and pay tribute to you and your dad. I earnt an A+ for my assignment and won the favour of my teacher whose husband had also served in Vietnam.
15 years later my husband and I arrived in the U.S. right before Christmas vacation. We spent our holiday on a 10-day road trip around Florida, needing relief from our first Midwest winter. You guessed it, Miami, your adopted home was number one on my list. I played my entire Gloria Estefan music collection on the road between Key West and Miami. My very patient husband tolerated endless regurgitation of facts and stories about “my friend” Gloria. They were still there in my memory – probably ingrained with the rhythm and lyric of every song I had sung and danced to behind the closed door of my bedroom as a teenager. On arrival in Miami, I was thrilled to finally eat lunch at Larios on the Beach, and stroll by the Cardoza Hotel.
As the lights go down in the theatre I have to put down my pen, maybe I’ll pick it up again when I return from Cuba in a few of weeks. Didn’t I tell you 2016 was looking like a pilgrimage? On the journey of only 90 Millas for me, but a million miles to those that it matters most, you will be in my heart, and your music on my iPhone! Thank you for your music, energy and inspiration over the years, I hope for so many more.
Peace, love and music,